In Detail

Chronotopic Cartographies (2017-20) is an AHRC-funded project led by Lancaster University but with four Co-Investigators at other Institutions (Edinburgh University; The Alan Turing Institute; The University of Sunderland and MMU) and two at Lancaster. This project itself built on prior work in the Spatial and Digital Humanities at Lancaster, for which the University has a world-leading reputation. However, where previous funded grants, led by the Department of History, have focussed on the mapping of real-world place and space, this literary project is centred on imaginary worlds that present a challenge to conventional mapping models.

Conceptually the project addresses a deceptively simple problem that has previously restricted spatial exploration of literature, particularly in digital space, the problem of how to generate the "base map". Where a text is set in a space that appears to correspond to the real world (e.g. London in a Dickens' novel) this appears unproblematic, but where a text creates a world with no direct correspondence there is nothing on to which to map textual elements. The project aims to solve this problem by generating the base map out of the text itself, using XML coding of place-names and other toponymic elements to generate map representations from a complex spatial schema. We map separately for space and time in each text (with the option of recombining these later).

The nature of the code enables the generation of core underlying "map" visualisations for each text intended to enable interpretation across texts and images in a range of ways depending on the sophistication of the audience. A secondary level of visualisation in 3D and other immersive forms is also undertaken for certain texts in the form of focussed case studies. Our spin-off project LITCRAFT is situated here (creating accurate scale maps of literary worlds with linked educational resources in the Minecraft platform).

The primary focus of the underlying research is the development of new methods and tools for reading, mapping and interpreting literature in the digital medium. "Literary mapping" is interpreted in its broadest possible sense as denoting explicit visualisation of represented fictional places generated out of the text and transformed into a range of maps from static GIS maps to full 3D worlds and walking tours. The project has three primary objectives: developmental, conceptual and communicative: to develop new digital tools for mapping and visualising literary space and place; new methods and approaches that opened up the field of literary mapping; and to make the work accessible to future generations.


Bakhtin and the Chronotope

The conceptual core of the project – and its title – finds its origins in Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope ("timespace") for literature as articulated in "Forms of Time and the Chronotope in the Novel". Although by no means a recent account (orig.1937; trans. 1981), it is still the most convincing argument for the prioritization of space and time as the determining factors of literary form and genre. We believe that it can form the foundation of a new way of understanding and exploring literary time-space within the digital medium.It informs the core structures of our project in the following ways:

Five Spatio-Temporal Types for Literature (Chronotypes): Bakhtin essentially redetermines the concept of literary genre in spatial terms. We follow his lead in the project by creating six "chronotypes" – spatio-temporal forms for literature that cut across traditional generic classifications. These are:

  • Correspondent Places: fictional worlds for which there is a real-world correspondence
  • Indeterminate Spaces: generically non-specific
  • Nested Worlds: an integration of the “real” and the fictional
  • Fantasy Worlds: purely imaginative realms
  • Spaces of Exile: lost worlds or places to which we cannot return

Core Thematic Chronotopes: Bakhtin’s model also allows for chronotopic foci that cut across all categories. Chronotopes emerge as the ‘organising centres for the fundamental narrative events of the novel’, as the place where ‘knots of narrative are tied and untied’ (FTC, p. 250). In his ‘Concluding Remarks’, added in 1973, Bakhtin outlines six chronotopes, each with distinct ‘spatial areas’ and meanings:

  1. The chronotope of the road, defined as a place of wandering, of new departures, turning points, collisions, separations, meetings, escapes and endings
  2. The chronotope of the castle, a place of historicity embodying museum-like traces of the past. Here the past has visible markers: architecture, furnishings, weapons, portrait galleries, archives
  3. The chronotope of parlours and salons (room) a place of politics, literary, business where historical, social and public events converge with the private and intimate in closed, compact spaces, a place where encounters, dialogues and intrigue occur
  4. The chronotope of the provincial town (village), a place of unity, specific locales of the petty-bourgeois with sleepy streets and quaint little houses.
  5. The chronotope of the threshold is the point where the crisis or the climactic event take place. It is that particular area which joins two different spaces, e.g. entrances, doorways, corridors, staircases. It links the narrow, the confined, the private with the extensive, the public, the city.
  6. The chronotope of the public square shares aspects of the carnival: topographically boundless, totally exposed, socially and psychologically unrestricted.

These chronotopic core structures are incorporated into the spatial schema for our project, vitally informing the visualisations that we generate out of the text.

Literary Mapping at Different Scales: Bakhtin’s account of the chronotope is further remarkable in managing to demonstrate how all elements of the literary work – narrative, character, plot, action, motif – are vitally determined by aspects of time and space. This enables the spatial dimensions of literature to be brought to the fore and understood as dynamic elements of narrative, structure and meaning. It also allows for the mapping of literary place and space at multiple scales, which our project explores. So, we can generate maps for a whole text, or for discrete sections or for micro-mapping within a section.